AfterSherrieLevine.com is a website by Michael Mandiberg.
It consists of scanned versions of Sherrie Levine’s After Walker Evans photographs (which themselves were appropriated versions of “original” Walker Evans’ photographs) as well as a section of texts, including a statement by Mandiberg, and a series of appropriated texts written by or involving Levine.
The titles of the individual photographs refer to to their url (e.g., AfterSherrieLevine.com/1.jpg).
In each one of these photographs, one views, at first glance, a black & white, Great Depression-era documentation of either a figure, a group of figures, an architectural detail, or a barren landscape in a rural, economically-distressed area.
These images were initially created by Walker Evans and received attention for providing documentary evidence of the way in which the Great Depression impacts “the common man” as well as creating a myth around the figure of Evans as a roving, Whitman-esque bard of the photographic medium.
However, in the context of Mandiberg’s website—aftersherrielevine.com—one views another layer to these photographs, consisting of Levine’s intervention into them.
As photographs of photographs taken by Levine, their value resides less as the documentation of poverty or as a sign of the mythology surrounding Evans and more as empty simulations of these qualities.
In the perceived wake of Modernism, the heroic potential of autonomous artists or autonomous works of art was challenged as artists such as Levine sought to demonstrate the impotence of these ideas in the wake of the massive increase in social image consumption due to technological reproduction.
The world is filled to suffocating. Man has placed his token on every stone. Every word, every image, is leased and mortgaged. We know that a picture is but a space in which a variety of images, none of them original, bend and clash.
Photographs which are framed as “of photographs,” it is thought, demonstrate this very condition of an “image world” and, as such, contain no illusionary cult value in and of themselves; on the contrary, they demonstrate the negation of this value.
Now, of course, Levine’s re-photographs are not purely theoretical objects; they exist in major museum collections and are widely exhibited, thus, complicating any claim to Levine’s negation of the idea of the “artist as genius” or of the original work of art.
And this is where Mandiberg’s intervention into Levine’s work comes in.
By scanning the photographs from the same Walker Evans book which Levine herself used, uploading them to the Internet and marking them as “After Sherrie Levine,” Mandiberg demonstrates that the very self-mythologizing and cult-value which Levine ostensibly critiques is, in fact, highly present in her own work.
Though her work was a critique of the authority of the hero-artist as produced by art history, this critique is arguably as well known in contemporary art discourse as Evans’ original work.
As art discourse paralleled the accomplishments of postmodern artists, these artists and their works paradoxically become art historical landmarks
It should be said, though, that Mandiberg’s insight here was not lost on Levine herself.
Several years after the production and exhibition of her After Walker Evans series, Levine suggests in an interview with Jeanne Siegel (which Mandiberg turns into a one-act play available to read on aftersherrielevine.com) that her own thinking about the work is transformed.
In the beginning, there was a lot of talk about the denial in the work and I certainly corroborated in that reading, but now it’s more interesting for me to think about it as an exploration of the notion of authorship. We do believe that there are such things as authorship and ownership. But I think at different times we interpret these words differently. It’s the dialectical nature of these terms that now interests me.
This dialectic of critique and confirmation is further developed in Mandiberg’s project as he includes with each of the high resolution images in the project a printable “certificate of authenticity” which is to be signed by the person who printed it out.
This gesture allows Mandiberg to acknowledge his own images’ potential for cult-value while also distancing this value from economics as the person viewing the work is free to print out and “officially” certify it by their own hand.
By versioning Levine’s work on the Internet and self-reflexively accounting for the fact that his own critique is itself subject to objectification and fetishization, Mandiberg’s project expands the picture drawn by Levine—one not of a struggling farmer, but rather of the process of image dissemination.
One views here a version of a version of a work of photography which is itself a version of another work (say, of portraiture or landscape in 19th century painting) and one views this version not as an endgame, but rather as one more notch in a chain of versions extending into the past and the future.